Palestinian Poverty, Israeli Affluence: Deciphering The NY Times

It takes some attention and a bit of math, but readers of The New York Times now have the means to discover just how great the chasm is between Israelis and Palestinians—not just in politics but in hard cash.

In an article and follow-up editorial concerning a report by the RAND Corporation, an establishment think tank, the Times informs us that if the adversaries negotiated a two-state peace deal, both Palestinians and Israelis would gain financially. Over 10 years, RAND says, Israel would gain $123 billion and Palestine $50 billion.

We learn that in terms of annual per capita income this breaks down to a 5 percent increase, or $2,200, for Israelis and a 36 percent increase, or $1,000, for Palestinians.

Readers are apt to take that in with little pause, but if we do the calculations, this tells us that current incomes average $44,000 for Israelis and $2,778 for Palestinians. This puts Israel far above the World Bank standard of $12,746 for high-income countries. It places Palestine barely over the low-income level.

This means Palestinians make less than their neighbors in Egypt, Jordan or Iraq. It places Palestine in the same World Bank grouping as Guatemala, South Sudan and others with per capita incomes from $1,046 to $4,125.

Israel rates with the economic stars, not only in the high-income category but in the elite of that group. On average, its citizens earn yearly incomes very near those in Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. [The World Bank lists Israel’s per capita income as $32,030, but this includes occupied Palestine, which is given no separate economic status. The RAND report distinguishes between Israel and Palestine.]

The Times would have done its readers a favor by untangling the data and revealing the stark difference between Israeli and Palestinian earnings, but the story and editorial give a sense that the two sides are on an even playing field. A two-state solution, the Times editorial states, “makes both sides winners.”

The article, by Jodi Rudoren, puts emphasis on how much the occupation costs Israel in support for settlements and security. It is seen, she writes, as a “self-imposed economic burden.” There is no mention of the burden on the Palestinian side.

The think tank, however, does better than the Times by stating outright that “A singular feature of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship is the power imbalance between the two parties: Israel dominates the region both militarily and economically.”

The report makes clear that Israeli policy has harmed Palestinian commerce with regulations favoring Israeli companies, restrictions on movement and the confiscation of water and land. It also points up the devastating impact of Israel’s policy of demolishing housing and infrastructure in Gaza and the West Bank.

None of this appears in the Times, which sticks to the dry numbers of the RAND report, but this data has provided clues to a reality the Times obscures—the scandalous inequality between Israelis and Palestinians.

This disparity should inform the paper’s reporting on relations between the two sides, yet we read of the peace talks as if they involve two equal parties, both asked to make concessions. Likewise, in reports on Gaza, we read of the threat of rockets but learn almost nothing about the overwhelming military might of Israel’s arsenal and army.

Readers should not have to take to their calculators to discover the huge imbalance that underlies every aspect of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Our newspaper of record should have revealed that reality long before now and not in hidden ciphers.

Barbara Erickson

NY Times Applauds While Israel Robs Palestine of Water

The New York Times invites us to gaze with wonder on the miracles of Israeli technology today, with a page 1 photo and story touting the innovations that have saved the country from drought. Because of wise policies and applied science, we learn, “there is plenty of water in Israel.”

The Times never tells us, however, that a significant number of those who reside on the land are seriously deprived of water: Palestinians in some areas of the West Bank are forced to survive on only 20 liters of water a day per person, well below the World Health Organization minimum of 60 liters. In Gaza 90 percent of the water is unfit to drink.

Meanwhile, Israelis in West Bank settlements “generally have access to as much running water as they please,” according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, and Israelis over all use three times as much water as Palestinians. Settlers also confiscate West Bank springs, and Israeli security forces destroy water equipment in Palestinian villages and prevent their residents from building cisterns and wells.

In the Times story, “Aided by the Sea, Israel Overcomes an Old Foe: Drought,” Isabel Kershner writes that Israel is thriving because it has adopted recycling and desalination. She quotes at length from Israeli officials but includes not a single Palestinian voice.

Kershner manages to dismiss Palestinian concerns in two sentences: “Israel, which shares the mountain aquifer with the West Bank, says it provides the Palestinians with more water than it is obliged to under the existing peace accords. Palestinians say it is not enough and too expensive.” She feels no need to address the humanitarian crisis Israeli has created in confiscating Palestinian water for its own use.

In fact, Israel steals the water from under the feet of Palestinians, draining West Bank aquifers, allocating 73 percent of this water to Israel and another 10 percent to settlers. Palestinians are left with 17 percent, and many are forced to buy from the Israeli water company at rates up to three times as high as the tariffs charged Israelis.

Kershner omits any mention of the obvious inequalities between Israeli West Bank settlements and the Palestinian villages nearby. Settlements often have swimming pools and green, watered turf, while villages remain dusty and dry, without enough water for agriculture or even for home gardens.

The Times has also turned its back on news that underscores the outright theft of water in Palestine. It had nothing to report, for instance, when settlers recently surrounded a Palestinian spring with mines and barbed wire. The paper also remained silent when security forces destroyed pipes providing water to an impoverished Jordan Valley herding community earlier this year.

Many organizations, however, have spoken out. The United Nations, the World Bank, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, church groups, If Americans Knew, and others. They have issued reports and press releases noting that Israel violates international law in confiscating Palestinian water resources and highlighting the striking disparities between West Bank villages and Jewish settlements.

Kershner found none of this worth mentioning in her story today. Instead, we find a promotional piece that should benefit Israeli water specialists now peddling their products in California and other drought-stricken areas of the United States.

Editors and reporters are complicit in this effort to tout Israel as an enlightened and technologically advanced country, even in the face of its flagrant theft of Palestinian water. The New York Times has found an Israeli puff piece on water technology to be worth a front page spread, but it deems the criminal confiscation of this basic resource unfit to print.

Barbara Erickson

Dining at the Jerusalem Consulate: The Back Story

In a recent piece in The New York Times, Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren tells of a gala evening, a dinner party designed to showcase American largesse to Palestinian food producers. The event prompts her to pose a question: “What does Washington buy for the Palestinians anyhow?”

Her answer comes in the following paragraph, where she reports that the United States appropriated $440 million for Palestinians this year. Nearly half of that goes to pay debts; $70 million is for “security”; and the rest is for such things as infrastructure, water projects and private enterprise ($21 million), which includes $6 million for food production.

It is this last category that Rudoren addresses in her story, which is pegged to a dinner hosted by U.S. Consul General Michael Ratney in Jerusalem. She writes that American money has supported West Bank producers of strawberries, salt, olive oil, herbs, dates, wine and vinegar.

This is all very well, but there is a subtext to the story that Rudoren fails to address. Palestinian commerce has been strangled by the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, an occupation that the United States facilitates with massive amounts of aid to Israel. Israeli officials hold up Palestinian trucks at checkpoints, causing grapes and strawberries to rot before they reach market. They place obstructions in the way of exports, prevent workers from reaching their jobs and confiscate vital land and resources for settlements.

Rudoren writes, for instance, that wine for the consulate dinner came from the first bottles produced by a brewery (now also a winery) in the West Bank village of Taybeh but fails to say that Taybeh is threatened by the loss of water resources to three surrounding illegal Jewish settlements. It now receives water only three days a week, an impossible situation for a brewery.

Taybeh Brewery survives with the help of a franchise in Germany. Another enterprise mentioned in the Times story, Canaan Fair Trade, manages with the help of dedicated supporters in the United States and Europe. Most indigenous business ventures, however, struggle on their own under the crippling effects of Israeli oppression.

The results have shown up in the data. A World Bank study, for instance, shows a $3.4 billion loss to the Palestinian economy due solely to the fact that Israel has made large swaths of West Bank land off limits to farmers and other producers. Compare this to the $21 million U.S. support for private enterprise, and the American help to farmers appears both absurd and hypocritical, little more than a band aid applied to a bleeding artery.

As for the news that $70 million in U.S. aid goes to “security,” rest assured that this is not security for Palestinians; it is for Israel.  A Congressional Research Service report on aid to Palestinians (the report avoids using the word “Palestine”) lists three objectives in supplying U.S. funds to Palestinians, and first among them is “to prevent terrorism against Israel.” This means training and using Palestinian Authority services to keep other Palestinians in check, all for the benefit of Israel.

There is no mention of protections for the Palestinians, although the numbers show that they are at much greater risk than the Israelis. Reports show that so far this year 24 Palestinian civilians have died at the hands of Israeli security forces. (The latest was a 7-year-old boy killed by an Israeli bomb in Gaza.) By contrast, only one Israeli civilian had been killed by Palestinians as of April 30. Moreover, Israel has demolished an average of 15 Palestinian structures each week in 2014, leaving 629 people without shelter. Who, we might ask, is suffering from terrorism?

Palestinians recognize the irony in U.S. funding for showcase projects while American money supports the occupiers who impose a brutal regime on their society. This was apparent to a group of us visiting the West Bank in 2011, soon after the United States vetoed a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements, thus contradicting its own policy and standing in isolation with Israel against the rest of the world powers.

As our bus passed through a village, we saw a plaque announcing a “gift from the American people to the Palestinian people,” which had been funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It commemorated the construction of a public park in Kufor Ni’meh. Spray-painted in bold red across the plaque was the single word “VETO.”

The villagers who took aim at the plaque were aware that USAID paid for turnstiles and cages that serve as cattle pens for Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints. They also knew the meaning of the U.S. veto at the UN, and they were not to be bought off by the token gift of a public park.

In her story, Rudoren takes up the issue of just what U.S. aid does in the occupied Palestinian territories, but she fails to examine why the Palestinian economy needs life support. She also stops short of asking a related question: Just what does Washington buy for the Israelis?

This is a subject the Times would rather not address. Readers might object if they knew that more than $8 million a day in U.S. taxpayer money goes to Israel, all of it for military aid, with no strings attached. Place this alongside the aid to Palestine, and the lopsided nature of the relationship becomes stark. The daily ration of military aid for Palestinians is precisely $0.

Barbara Erickson